GENDUSA COLUMN: Leaving to light up heaven

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, June 21, 2023

She was young and adorable when I met her. Her toddler was riding a tricycle in the driveway, and as I walked to her mother’s door, the little girl happily waved. Karen welcomed me with a glowing smile, apparent vitality, and open arms. Her tousled blond hair framed an exuberant, pretty face, and I immediately knew I would love her. 

I met her that morning as her new Interior Designer, and we quickly became friends. In the following years, her family grew to include two more children riding trikes in the driveway. A dog or two and a cat or three would join the gang, creating an active and fun home. She was several years younger than me but always declared we were “Soul Sisters.” 

We didn’t resemble each other, but our ability to run our mouths, laugh over silly things, and fanatically adore our children were the same. She was a loyal, loving wife, a friend to countless, and a replica of a young Meg Ryan. 

As a designer, she was my only client in 43 years to whom I could never say “no.”  “Karen, I am retiring in September,” I quietly stated as she poured me a cup of coffee one summer morning in 2015. Without hesitation, she responded, “Well, you’re not retiring from me!” She was correct; I wasn’t, I couldn’t.

She was a masterful chef, and no matter how early I entered her kitchen, she was preparing something delectable for her family. After cooking, she donned her scrubs and headed to a hospital to work as a Nurse Anesthetist. From the moment her feet hit the ground, she never stopped. 

I imagine God knew she needed to scurry through her days because today, she is gone. My beautiful, crazy, delightful friend left too many too early with broken hearts. Ovarian cancer robbed us of a light that shined as bright as the sun and radiated enough energy to warm all around her.

Death often seems quite unfair and unreasonable. When deprived of more time with those we love, we must believe the same. Anger can occasionally cover sorrow for a while, but at some point, that old grief will follow the shock of such tragedies. And unfortunately, it is not avoidable. As the Bible so eloquently states, “There is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to grieve, a time to dance.” We never know how God keeps time, so we must live every second as if we don’t have another.

Karen robustly lived every moment. I only witnessed her stumble a couple of times in her life. When a vivacious, happy person falters, it is difficult to watch. Yet, within a short time, she picked up the hurt pieces and stored them in memory. Back to the kitchen, back to work, and back to her perky, witty, dancing self. 

As I write this today, “dignity” comes to mind. Are people left with a smile when they remember us after we depart? When they think of us, will attributes like character, humor, kindness, and loving be words that accompany their memory of our lives?

When I think of my friend, that is exactly what I recall and will for as long as I live. A well-lived life is defined by the joy we leave behind for others. Her journey here will continue through the stories told around family dinner tables, where tears are interrupted by the laughter she created. The grandchildren who never knew her will grow to know her well through those who treasured her. 

Physically, Karen is gone, but no one who passes ever really is, right? They just keep living on in our hearts and memories.

I notice the flip-flops I have on as I type this.  When I wore them to Karen’s house last summer, she immediately saw them, “Take those off!” She yelled as I walked toward her. She put one on her foot and exclaimed, “Where did you get these? I want a pair!” She was heading out of town, so I returned to Marshalls and located the $16 sandals in her size, making her happy as a clam.”  

Life is made joyful by the little things like flip-flops adorned with rhinestones or a happy child waving while riding a tricycle. It is in the meals we make for those we love and the work we do to aid one another. It is in the laughter we share, the friends we meet, and the days filled with dancing.

Over thirty years ago, an adorable young woman welcomed me with open arms. Today, I wave a tearful goodbye as she leaves to light up heaven. 

In loving memory of Merry Karen Adams West